Rare Bird Alert Website

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Rare Bird Alert Website
From: Luke Shelley <>
Date: Wed, 4 Nov 2009 21:52:07 +1100
Great to see some good conversations recently on the subject of birding
internet sites, and new online tools for birding. Interesting to note is
that Twitter did not seem to feature in the recent conversation regarding
the *Rare Bird Alert Website*, yet it is probably the best suited (and by
that I mean the technology, and not the brand name itself) to meet the
seemingly increasing demands of 'real-time' mass communication of bird
sightings. The following is an email to Birding-Aus that I intended to post
last week in response to the *Birdlines on Twitter* discussion, but it is
related to the current discussion on *Rare Bird Alert Websites*:

Social Networking (the umbrella that covers Twitter, Facebook, MySpace etc)
might appear to be a relatively new thing, but in fact they are just tools
for online networking. This website, and a number of other locally produced
birding websites, are also prime examples of Social Networking. Birders have
been doing it for years.

It is inevitable that birders will eventually make the transition to using
these tools. Why? Because they are tailored perfectly (well, almost
perfectly) to what we already do, but they will enhance and enrich our
experience. One other reason that this form of communication is inevitable
is that young people of today are brought up with this medium for
communication, and they use it everyday. By that, I mean that they have a
standard way that they expect to receive information.

It is interesting to note some of the comments regarding the introduction of
Birdlines to Twitter, "clutter" being one of them. I agree that it seems
like clutter with all of the new online tools and mobile apps that are
pushed upon us. I also agree that they are somewhat prohibitive given the
cost, but that will change (or at least come down) over time. However, from
the perspective of the next and future generation of birders, "clutter"
would be a word they would use to describe this very website, and a number
of others that are commonly used by birders in Australia. That is purely
because these websites are not presented in a way that a reader can quickly
and easily gather the information they want. The new world wants the answer,
and they want it right away, with minimum effort.

Lets look at a couple of examples of where these new tools can enhance what
we currently do in the birding world:
1. The use of birdlines
Scenario 1 (Current): A birder goes out to the WTP for day. During the day
the birder passes a number of other birders, waving as they go by, as they
do not really know these people. The following day the birder is looking at
Birdline, and notices that someone has posted a sighting of a Ruff. The
birder is disappointed as they did not see the Ruff.
Scenario 2 (Future): A birder goes out to the WTP for a day. The birder is a
subscriber to the new Birdline Twitter feed. Whilst at the plant the birder
receives a live Twitter update that there is a Ruff at the Borrow Pits. The
birder quickly drives down there, and meets with the other birder who just
posted the sighting only minutes earlier. The birder now has a new tick, and
a new friend.

2. Twitching amongst specific groups
Scenario 1 (Current): A Blue-and-White Flycatcher turns up in Broome. One
particular high profile twitcher is telephoned by someone in Broome, and he
has packed his bags and is on his way. This twitcher has about a dozen
friends who would also be interested in seeing this bird, so he calls them
on his mobile, one by one. Who does he call first?
Scenario 2 (Future): A Blue-and-White Flycatcher turns up in Broome. One
particular high profile twitcher is telephoned by someone in Broome, and he
has packed his bags and is on his way. This twitcher has about a dozen
friends who would also be interested in seeing this bird, and he wants to
let them all know at once, but doesn't particularly want to post the site on
the website so everyone can see. Fortunately the twitcher and his friends
have established a closed network so that they can only see each others
posts, and no-one else can see the posts. The twitcher posts to his network,
and all of his fellow twitchers receive the sighting instantly, all at the
same time. They are all on their way, and will probably all arrive at the
same time.

I think the new social networking tools are great, but in their current form
they are not ideal. As birders, we need to shape them into tools that are
useful for what we love doing most: birding!

*End of original email*
With regards to the latest discussion on Rare Bird Alert Websites, I would
like to bring up a couple of extra points, along the same lines as above.

Firstly, there appears to be an assumption that the users of such websites
are only after rare or unusual sightings - I believe that this is not
entirely true. Speaking for myself, being a novice birder I use the websites
not only to find rare birds, but also to pick up reasonably common or
seasonal birds that I do not yet have on my list. By creating a website that
only posts sightings of rare birds (subjectively), we are restricting the
use of the site, and limiting the possibilities of what the site can become.
A far better way would be to base postings on user defined choices, or
automated rules through coding. Sooner or later birding websites are going
to become so inundated that manual moderation of the site will become almost
impossible. It would be very easy to code in specific rules that
automatically moderate a website so that particular species or locations
would or would not be shown. Along with modern day geographic information
systems (GIS), this could easily become spatially based rules as well. Any
sightings that 'break the rules' so to speak could then be flagged for
manual moderation.

Secondly, the real power of any of these websites is in the contributors. I
have seen some nice looking birding websites out there, but they are not
currently successful because they do not have a wealth of contribution that
some of the other sites have. I believe this comes down to 'usability',
which relates to my comment of 'clutter' in my initial email above. There is
currently also the issue of all of these different tools and websites on
offer that are not in one central location.

For those of you that are keen, do some searching on "Web 2.0" on the
internet (Wikipedia is a good start). Next time you visit your favourite
birding website, ask yourself these questions:
What is it I want to do?
What do I have to do to do it? (i.e. what are the steps involved, how many
clicks does it take to get there, how easy is it to do)
How is the information displayed? Can you think of better ways? Or is this
display perfect as it is?
How long does it take to display in this way? Are maps too slow?
What ways would you like to display or filter the information in your own

The more of us that write down these ideas, the more we can formulate them
into a 'business case' and present them to the current website owners, or
indeed to a budding new website designer. I have plenty of ideas I have
already put on paper, and I would be more than willing to discuss them with
anyone here. They range from ways to mass communicate (e.g. twitter etc), to
social networks for creating and sharing bird lists, events etc (e.g.
Facebook etc), all the way to submitting survey and Atlas records. The
possibilities are endless.

I see our birding websites, including this one, as more than just a place to
post and discuss rare bird sightings. I see them as a gateway to the great
pastime of birding, for novices and veterans alike, and the more we come to
realise that, the many more people will come to enjoy birding both now and
into the future.



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